Let me introduce you to my friend Bill Marler. A nice enough guy for a lawyer, he watches the meat industry from way out there in Seattle, patrolling the perimeter of the business like an old-fashioned foot ball coach. You’ll get grudging pats on the back when you do things right and a two-by-four upside your head when you screw up. Does anybody remember Woody Hayes grabbing a slacker of a player by the throat and pointing out the error of his ways?
Here is his latest blow to the meat industry’s head:
“SALT LAKE CITY, UT (January 21, 2010) The first E. coli lawsuit against National Steak and Poultry (NSP), an Oklahoma meat manufacturing facility, was filed today in the Third Judicial District Court in Salt Lake City. The civil suit was filed by Marler Clark and by Utah attorneys Jared Faerber and Dustin Lance on behalf of a child sickened in the E. coli O157:H7 outbreak linked to NSP beef products. The lawsuit also names as yet unidentified “John Doe” companies that may have been involved in distributing the tainted meat products.”
“According to the lawsuit, 14-year-old Utah resident “CD” was infected with E. coli O157:H7 in October 2009. Within days of consuming contaminated meat, he began to experience severe E. coli symptoms including agonizing abdominal cramps and diarrhea that soon turned bloody. When his symptoms worsened, his parents rushed him to the ER at Columbia Lakeview Hospital in Bountiful, Utah where he was diagnosed with gastrointestinal bleeding; his parents were ultimately directed to take him to Primary Children’s Medical Center due to his deteriorating condition. CD remained hospitalized at Primary Children’s Medical Center in Ogden, Utah from November 2 through 4, 2009. He was diagnosed with infectious colitis, and a stool specimen that he submitted during his hospitalization soon tested positive for E. coli O157:H7. CD’s parents learned from officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that the strain of E. coli O157:H7 that had infected their son matched the outbreak strain linked to the defendant National Steak Processor’s beef products.”
Now friend Bill has a certain reputation. More often than not, he’ll walk into a room with the defendants and their team of highly paid, skilled lawyers and, with his avuncular smile and warm handshake, walk out an hour or so later with an extremely large settlement. No need to waste time in court. The company in question merely hands over a check (Fill in the blank spots, Mr. Marler, sir) and counts themselves lucky that they escaped with their corporate lives. The only thing the defendants ask is that the size of the settlement not be disclosed but I can promise you it’s in the breathless 7 figure range.
The agonizing thing is — he doesn’t want to do this. He has plenty of money and a sterling reputation in his line of work. He lives very comfortably, thank you very much. But when it comes to getting after companies that are responsible for outbreaks of food borne illnesses, it’s like that old line in the Godfather:
Yeah, that’s it. Every time he thinks he’s out of the business, the meat industry keeps pulling him back in.
So let me repeat myself. If you’re in the meat business, do a serious cost/benefit analysis. What’s worse, doubling the money you’re spending for food safety or sitting across the conference table from Bill Marler?
Just in case you need more background on the man, here is a peek at his resume: He began litigating foodborne illness cases in 1993, when he successfully represented Brianne Kiner, the most seriously injured survivor of the Jack in the Box E. coli O157:H7 outbreak. Over the years Marler Clark (his law firms) has become the leader in representing victims of foodborne illness and has gone against companies that include Odwalla, Chili’s, ConAgra, Dole, KFC, Sizzler, Golden Corral, and Wendy’s. Under the auspices of the non-profit Outbreak, Inc, Mr. Marler spends much of his time speaking about food safety and has testified before Congress as well as State Legislatures. He is a frequent author of articles related to foodborne illness in food safety journals and magazines as well as on Food Safety News, www.foodsafetynews.com and his personal blog, www.marlerblog.com.
Bottom line: Pay your food scientists now or pay Bill Marler later, and trust me, he’s a hell of a lot more expensive.